Goodbye, Windows 8 – it’s been er, interesting.
But don’t feel too bad as you pack your bags – it’s not like you actually sunk Microsoft or anything (although we know that you did your damnedest).
And as you begin the slow process of clearing the building before Windows 10’s arrival in ‘late 2015’, you can take some spiteful pleasure in knowing that your successor will face sky-high expectations. Not least, Windows 10 is billed as the one OS that will work on everything, from desktop to tablet to mobile.
If you’re curious, you can install the Windows 10 Technical Preview right now. And you don’t even need to be that brave: for a brand spanking new OS with Beta spraycanned all over it, we can vouch that it’s remarkably stable (just as well, since we were dumb enough to install it as the daily driver for the office Surface Pro 3).
But before you emulate our wild leap into the unknown, what should you know about the OS that will come with every new PC from mid-2015?
No more schizophrenia
Windows 10 tries to create a more seamless relationship between the desktop and touch-optimised Modern UI – and even at this early stage in W10’s life, it does a pretty decent job.
Modern apps are now windowed when launched, and there are new keyboard shortcuts to snap them to the edges of your screen.
The sense of jolting from one world to another is now gone, although there’s still a lot of work to do in ironing out the creases – right now, those windowed Modern apps in W10 look like (and in many cases are functionally close to) expanded mobile apps.
It’s also likely that your Windows 10 installation will vary according to the device. Our clean install onto the Surface Pro 3 launched into the tablet-optimised Modern UI – while a Parallels install on a Macbook Air launched straight to desktop, with the ‘new’ desktop Start menu.
Is that sarcasm we hear from the Mac brigade out there?
Fair enough, OS X has touted Exposé for eons – but that doesn’t mean that Windows 10’s plural desktops are any less welcome. You activate them in W10 by tapping Win-tab, or – with a touch screen – swiping in from the left. And you can switch between them using Ctrl-Win + the left or right keys.
They need work, though: as we point out later on, flipping windows between desktops is some way from obvious. But we’ve no doubt that Microsoft will sort this before 10 hits full release next year.
By the way, don’t get it into your head that you can create an infinite number of desktops: in this release at least, they seem limited to the width of the screen (in the case of our Surface Pro 3, that’s eight desktops).
All-new Start menu
Well, kind of. In fact, W10’s ‘new’ Start is the bastard brother of the tiled UI from Windows 8, and the old school Start menu from Windows 7. But although it doesn’t represent a design breakthrough, it does work (which is more than many would say for W8’s Modern Start).
You can move your apps around in much the same way as you could in Windows 8.1 Update: either click or tap to drag and move, or right-click or hold to re-size.
It looks good, it’s flexible and should improve further as Microsoft polishes the UI (particular the iconography from today’s Windows desktop, which currently looks cramped and dated in the new interface).
There are bugs to squish, as you’d expect. The entire Start menu can be resized from the top of the panel; we found that if you squash it down, the tiled area will run off the right-hand edge of your screen – we’ll assume that this won’t happen with the final release.
Spit and polish for the Windows desktop UI
It needs to go a long way to equal the pixel-perfect gloss of Apple’s OS X Yosemite, but there are early signs of the Microsoft design team getting its freak on.
File Explorer’s the most noticeable update at this early stage – it pops into view with a subtle new transition, and looks discernibly cleaner (thanks in no small part to the absence of coloured borders to the windows).
There’s also a new set of icons for the likes of This PC, Homegroup and Network – flat, muted blue and olive green affairs that are infinitely more modern that their over-designed predecessors. Let’s just hope that Microsoft keeps on going: we may actually get a Windows desktop that you stare at for the hell of it.
Continuum could be a work of genius
This early Windows 10 Preview doesn’t have Continuum, the way that Microsoft intends on finally solving the desktop/laptop conundrum.
As you’ll see in the video, the plan is that you run W10 in desktop mode when there’s a keyboard attached, then switch to tablet mode when the keyboard is removed.
For what it’s worth, we think it looks like a damned fine idea, and can’t wait for the Preview build that has Continuum built in (especially because we’re using a Surface Pro 3…).
Windows 10 is snappy
It could just be a placebo effect, or the fact that we’d been abusing the Windows 8.1 install on our Surface Pro 3 solidly for four months, but the clean install of Windows 10 Preview feels fast (in fact, the only slight lag we can detect is – ironically – in first opening File Explorer).
WHAT’S TO HATE?
Still too much of the old UI
There are icons in Windows 10 that date back to the days of Vista. When half the world is running versions of Android that can be completely reskinned in seconds, this is unacceptable – it’s time to make Windows beautiful.
We’re happy to take accusations of design elitism, but things like those badly-indented dividers in the File Explorer menu bar just shouldn’t exist in 2014: and that’s before we’ve begun digging into the little horrors in the recesses of the Control Panel.
Multiple desktops need a ton of work
Yes, we know it’s an alpha, but the means of moving apps between desktops in the W10 Preview isn’t intuitive. You’d think you can do it by dragging and dropping, but no.
Instead, you must hit Win-tab to show the desktops, then right-click on the thumbnail of the app and tell it which desktop you want it to go to. If it helps, Microsoft, it’d be great to simply drag the app down from its menu bar and have the multiple desktops appear – easy.
If you’re going to go cloud, do it properly
Microsoft has come on leaps and bounds in the last 18 months: everything from your settings to your files can now be synced across devices when you sign in using your Microsoft account, and the entire Office suite is available on the web.
But going cloud means more than taking your suite of software online. It means, we think, integrating yourself with the other services that your users rely on every day. That can be social networks, or other web services.
Apple’s new OS X Yosemite has extensions that let you share files, words of pictures with those other services at a lick – there’s little sign of Microsoft understanding this with Windows 10.
Squint hard, and you can see the promise in Windows 10.
There’s nothing at this stage that’s revolutionary (multiple desktops have existed in OSX and Linux for yonks, while the ‘new’ Start is a prettier version of the old Start), but for an OS that isn’t due to go public for a year, it’s already very useable.
The telling moments will come when Microsoft unveils Continuum, and the OS begins to really adapt according to its host – get that right, and we may all forget about Windows 8 and move on.